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Question and Answer ArticleQuiet Generators

By Cherie Parker
Published: March 1, 2007
Q : My family owns a remote cabin with no chance of getting electricity, so we use a 6,000-watt gasoline-powered generator. This is adequate but noisy, even though the generator is 50 yards away and in a shed. We would prefer a propane-powered model since it would not require refilling even during long visits.
   
But I am at a loss as to finding a source to compare the decibel level for generators. Is propane quieter? 
   
We use lanterns and candles and really enjoy that ambiance. But there are times when power is desirable.
-Tom Spradley; Baton Rouge, La.

A:
Generators on the market today all have a decibel rating to help consumers rate each unit’s relative noisiness. Reading a number and hearing a sound are two different things, however, so it’s helpful to put decibel ratings in some sort of context.
   
Before comparing the sound output of generators, let’s first look at examples used by the National Institutes of Health to explain decibel numbers: 60-65dB is laughter; 50-60dB is a quiet office; 50-65dB is quiet conversation; 70dB is a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer; 75dB is a dishwasher; and 80dB is city traffic noise or a garbage disposal.
   
Propane generator models in general do report lower decibel levels on their specification sheets. When we asked Ken Stansbury, a generator dealer in New Iberia, La., for a noise comparison, he pointed out that the 7kW (7,000 Watts) Generac propane generator puts out 68dB at 23 feet and the 6.5 kW Gillette gasoline generator puts out 77dB at 23 feet.
   
Make, model and age of a generator may be as much a factor in its noisiness as its fuel type. Sara Pines from Honda says her company’s new gasoline generators can give propane generators a run for their money when it comes to noise. She says Honda’s generators for typical residential use emit an average of 64-68dB with the Super Quiet series operating at noise levels as low as 49dB. But the generators that Pines is citing are smaller than your 6,000-watt generator.
   
There are probably too many qualifiers – such as size, power capacity and efficiency – to say definitively that propane home generators are quieter than ones powered by gasoline. It’s telling that Stansbury’s immediate reaction to your question was that both were the same; it was only after looking over spec sheets that he realized his propane models run quieter.
   
The fact that your generator is at such a great distance (50 yards) from your cabin, enclosed and yet still bothers you with its noise suggests it may be time to replace it with an upgraded model.


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